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'Friends of Syria' vow to boost aid to opposition rebels

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-15

Western and Arab nations vowed to boost humanitarian aid and support for Syria's "moderate opposition" rebels at a Friends of Syria meeting in London on Thursday.

A joint statement from the 11 countries at the London talks also criticised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plan to seek re-relection in a June 3 vote despite the country's raging civil war and international calls for him to step down.

The statement described the election as a "parody of democracy" and urged the international community to reject the results.

Assad's "staged elections are a farce, they're an insult; they are a fraud", US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after the talks.

The US also backed French claims that chemical arms had been used in the conflict again in mid-April.

Ministers from the Friends of Syria group – which includes Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States – were meeting for the first time since January.

"We have to redouble our efforts, all of us, in support of the moderate opposition in order to bring about a peaceful resolution that the people of Syria want," Kerry said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague added: "We are of course united in our disgust and anger at what is happening in Syria, and the regime's utter disregard for human life."

Britain will also provide an extra £30 million ($50 million, €37 million) in "practical support" for the opposition, Hague said.

Assad regime blocking aid

Three years into the war which has claimed 150,000 lives, Hague said the group was determined "to step up our efforts to deliver humanitarian aid across borders and across lines irrespective of the consent of the regime".

The United States, which has put up some $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid, also voiced frustration at the bottleneck in getting food and supplies to desperate civilians.

"It is not getting to people. It's going through one gate, one entryway, and it's going through Damascus and/or controlled by the Assad regime. That's unacceptable," Kerry said.

"We're going to join with other countries in an effort to try to guarantee accountability through the UN in making that happen."

The UN's director of aid operations in Syria, John Ging, last week accused the Syrian government of blockading medical supplies bound for opposition areas, calling it an "abomination".

With 3.5 million Syrians in areas that aid convoys are able to reach only sporadically, and with over 240,000 stuck in besieged communities, blockades have become a powerful tool by both sides.

New chemical weapons claims

Kerry also revealed that he had seen "raw data" which suggested chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Syria, supporting accusations earlier made by France.

And he insisted that if such use was proven there would be accountability before organisations such as the International Criminal Court.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius suggested the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, including chlorine, 14 times since agreeing last year to give up its arsenal in a bid to avoid threatened US air strikes.

In a diplomatic boost to the Syrian opposition, Britain announced it had upgraded the status of their London office to a mission. Hague said the move was "in recognition of the strength of our partnership" with the National Coalition, headed by Ahmad Jarba.

Jarba took part in the London talks after attending a week of high-level meetings in the US, where he requested anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down the regime aircraft that are dropping deadly barrel bombs on Syrian civilians.

Kerry refused to be specify whether the US would meet Jarba's request but insisted that "every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up".

A car bomb killed at least 43 people at the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey as the talks took place in London, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Fabius: 'Regime fired barrels of chlorine'

Date created : 2014-05-15

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